Looking forward to celebrating Christmas with my newborn daughter one December gave me reason to think even more about Mary and the birth of Jesus. As I rocked and sang to my baby, it was easy to imagine that Mary did the same with Jesus. But what might she have sung? Luke 1:46-55 opens a window into Mary’s heart and mind.
Luke notes Mary’s carefulness after Jesus’ birth to “ponder” and “keep all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51), and it seems likely that habit would have been characteristic of her before His birth as well. Can you even imagine how the thoughts must have swirled in her head? A 400-year-long silence from God came to an end with Gabriel’s announcements to Zacharias and to Mary. The Messiah who’d been anticipated since Eve first sinned was now coming—coming as Mary’s baby. How would Joseph respond? What would people think? Mary would have had all of the first-time-mom-to-be questions, jitters, and anticipation, with the addition of knowing that she was carrying the Son of God in her womb. No What to Expect When You’re Expecting book could even begin to cover her situation. What an overwhelming responsibility she was given: out of all the millions of Jewish women down through the centuries, she was chosen to bear the Messiah.
After learning this news, Mary goes with “haste” to see Elizabeth (Luke 1:39). Strong’s Concordance says this word can mean speed, eagerness, earnestness, and diligence, and all of those synonyms could describe her journey. Hurrying to see the evidence of God’s promise fulfilled in her cousin, eager to talk with her, earnestly desiring to be diligent in following whatever God told her. Despite the urgency of the trip, Mary would have had plenty of time to ponder her situation as she traveled possibly 80-100 miles from Nazareth to Elizabeth’s town.
When Mary reaches her destination, she greets Elizabeth—now six months pregnant—and instantly sees in her the proof that God can do the impossible. It’s no quiet exchange of greetings—Elizabeth immediately knows she is in the presence of the promised Messiah and blesses God and Mary in a “loud cry” (Luke 1:42). Elizabeth recognizes Mary’s trust in what God has said (possibly a wry contrast with Zacharias’ doubt) and acknowledges that God will fulfill what He has promised her (Luke 1:45).
It had to have been a relief for Mary to see God’s promise fulfilled in Elizabeth, to recognize that Elizabeth knew about Mary’s pregnancy, and to realize that Elizabeth could understand her situation more closely than anyone else could. How loving and gracious of God to use godly, elderly Elizabeth to provide comfort and help for young Mary!
As Elizabeth finishes her blessing and praise, Mary immediately begins blurting out her own song of praise. Her lines of praise show that her mind was filled with the Word of God. Yes, the Spirit leads her, but she first had to have God’s Word in her heart in order for it to come out of her mouth. Her prayer is similar to Hannah’s prayers in 1 Samuel 1:11 and 2:1-10, and Mary also uses phrases found in Genesis, Exodus, and Psalms. She had so much of God’s Word memorized, and her parents must have poured the Scriptures into her throughout the few years she’d lived so far. What a challenge and example for us!
Mary starts her prayer by magnifying God. She’ll be called blessed by all future generations, but her desire is to make God bigger, not herself. She’s not just mindlessly repeating phrases; her sincere words come from deep in her heart as she finds joy in her Savior and recognizes her need for salvation.
Mary’s prayer contains many contrasts. Her God is mighty, but she is of humble estate. She lives in Nazareth, a town whose residents were looked down on. Thirty years from now, Jesus’ future disciple Nathanael will scoff, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Nor was she wealthy—when she and Joseph bring baby Jesus to the temple, the offering they can afford to bring is the one that costs the least of all. And finally, Mary is a woman, and a very young one at that, during a time when most cultures looked down on women.
By stating that she is God’s servant, she echoes her earlier response to Gabriel’s announcement in which she said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your Word” (Luke 1:38). Such a simple response, so few words, yet what a surrendering and willingness these words contain. Whatever God wanted to do with her, she’d serve Him.
While Mary’s prayer of praise mentions God’s characteristics and the mighty acts that He’s done for her people, she also recognizes His work in her own life. She acknowledges that God has done great things for her.
As Mary proclaims “Holy is His name,” perhaps she was remembering God’s response to Moses when he wondered what to tell the people if they asked “What is His name?” God replied, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). The Great I AM—nothing is too hard for Him, nothing limits Him.
The next section of her praise is filled with more contrasts, phrases that are echoes of Psalm 107. God has scattered the proud who had seemed so strong, and He has dethroned those who seemed so mighty and instead has exalted the lowly. God has satisfied the hungry but has sent the rich away empty. Mary likely could foresee the condemnation she’d face from those who would believe that she’d committed adultery, rather than believing that God had chosen her to bear the Savior. She’s living under Roman rule, but she knows her people’s history and knows that God will deliver His chosen ones once again as He has promised.
Ultimately, that’s enough for Mary—her God can do the impossible, and He will fulfill His promises. She won’t understand all of His ways or His working, but she rests in Him and will continue to ponder His wonderful works. Over the next three months, she and Elizabeth likely continued the pattern we see in these few verses and spent much time rehearsing God’s works and promises, encouraging each other and praying for each other. That’s another challenge for us as we interact with others—what an encouragement it is to hear or read even a simple “I’m praying for you” or to be reminded of a particular Bible verse!
This December, walk along with Mary and ponder on the God who brought wonder to her and to the world. Rest and rejoice in and magnify your Savior God—the I AM—with her.
Strong, J. (1984). 4710 spoudḗ: speed, dispatch, eagerness, earnestness, care, diligence, forwardness, haste. In Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (p. 153).
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